Computer Science Majors Make Learning Easier for Children with Autism

What do autism and raspberries have in common? For Widener senior computer science majors Justin Gordon and Tyler Romasco, the link is an inexpensive microcomputer that could help children with autism become more effective learners.
Gordon Romasco
Romasco, from Abington, Pa., became interested in the subject from research his sister was conducting as a graduate student at Arcadia University on using PowerPoint to help children with autism learn. A self-professed computer geek, Romasco saw promise in the research using Raspberry Pi, a popular new microcomputer which is about the size of a deck of cards and costs only about $35.

Romasco's enthusiasm infected friend and classmate Justin Gordon from Harleysville, Pa. Together, they developed a program using Raspberry Pi that helps children in grades K-3 at the lower end of autism spectrum disorder to associate words with corresponding images – such as the word "bananas" and a picture of a bunch of bananas.

Romasco said the benefit of using Raspberry Pi, as opposed to a laptop, is its low cost and portability.

"What we are planning on doing is making this open-source code," Romasco said. "We want its development to be community driven. This is not something we planned for a business. It should be more altruistic than just making money."

Gordon already has a job lined up after graduation at Erin Engineering in West Chester, Pa. doing web and application programming for nuclear risk analysis.

"I have been working on the back end getting the program up and running," Gordon said. "I also have been reading and learning a lot about autism."

Gordon and Romasco, who have been advised on their research by Professor Suk-Chung Yoon and Assistant Professor J. Adam Fischbach, presented their findings during Widener's Honors Week. However, that was just a warm-up for larger audiences. They were accepted to present their research at the prestigious National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in April at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, but they had a schedule conflict -- they are presenting their research at the regional conference of the Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges at Sienna College in New York on those dates.

Not to worry, fellow computer science major Edwin Dauber was also accepted to present his research titled "Integrating Classical Mechanics with Computer Science in Game Programming" at NCUR, and will serve as proxy for Gordon and Romasco, presenting their research as well.


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Photo:  (Standing) Tyler Romasco, holding a Raspberry Pi micro-computer, and Justin Gordon (seated) will present their research in April.